Dr. Dolittle meets Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as a father and son show signs of mental breakdown, and zoo animals talk. Everyone in his Brooklyn tenement expected James to enter the priesthood, but during high school, recognizing that he was too proud to pray, he settled for the next most respected career and became a surgeon. Now he's divorced, his 11-year-old son, Eddie, doesn't want to speak to him, and he's losing touch with reality. One afternoon he goes to the zoo and begins to hear voices like those he heard as a child--except that then they just called his name as he was falling asleep, and now a tiger offers pseudo- profound daylight advice like ``Take the help that's offered, or be lost.'' James thinks he may be going insane and doesn't find it an altogether unpleasant idea, until he learns that Eddie is also hearing voices. Dad wants to set an example, tell his son that he experienced the same thing when he was young, and prove that one can survive it. But James's current experiences--talking to tigers, becoming one with a giraffe's beauty, reciting Revelations to a two-headed snake--are so frightening that he feels he must pretend they're not happening in order to protect Eddie. Then he meets another zoo ``weirdo,'' a young woman who sings folk songs to the caged, and she offers James a way to make sense of his life. Ventura, who wrote the screenplay for Echo Park, destroys a promising concept and some dreamy detail by overloading his first novel with a great deal of clunky, overdrawn material about God, Paradise, the Bible, and the idea that all things are possible. It's hard to believe that the inner workings of a man who's losing it can be so dull. Lions and tigers and bears...oh, yawn.